January 6, 2019 in 2,500 words

The Trumpification of Political Discourse

Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib may have delighted the far-left with her coarse words for the president—but she’s also mirroring his style

Above: Rashida Tlaib of Michigan on the House floor before being sworn into the 116th Congress.

Thursday was a day of historic firsts. The first indigenous woman elected to Congress took the oath of office. So did the first Muslim congresswoman, and some of the first openly gay and bisexual members of the House and Senate. It was also quite possibly the first time a president has been publicly called a “motherfucker” by a sitting member of the House.

During a reception hours after her swearing-in ceremony, Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib told a crowd about her desire to oust Donald Trump, relaying a conversation she had with her son after her election in November: “[W]hen your son looks at you and says, ‘Mama, look, you won. Bullies don’t win.’ And I said, ‘Baby, they don’t, because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker!’”

The expletive set off a furious response from pundits and politicos—and it also helped underscore a rapidly emerging pattern. Some incoming progressive Democrats are repeatedly disregarding norms and breaking with their party in order to criticize the president and speak to their passionate base. Curiously, it’s an approach to politics that mirrors the tactics of the man they’re up against. Tlaib’s comments could foreshadow an intensifying drumbeat of norm-breaking on the left similar to the one that Trump has already imposed on the GOP.

The congresswoman, who promised to push Democrats to impeach Trump during her campaign and recently laid out her explicit support for impeachment in the Detroit Free Press, stuck by her comments in several follow-up tweets and in a statement released Friday. “The Congresswoman absolutely believes he needs to be impeached,” the statement said, without mentioning her language use.

An Engineering Wunderkind’s Ocean Plastics Cleanup Device Hits A Setback

Ocean Cleanup’s System 001 was towed out of the San Francisco Bay on Sept. 8, 2018.

The path to innovation is not always a smooth, straight line. In some cases, it’s U-shaped.

In September, a 2,000-foot-long floating barrier, shaped like a U, was dispatched to the Great Pacific garbage patch between Hawaii and California, where roughly 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic have formed a floating field of debris roughly twice the size of Texas. Made of connected plastic pipes, the barrier was meant to catch and clean-up the plastic.

Invented by Boyan Slat when he was just 17, the barrier has so far done some of what it was designed to accomplish. It travels with wind and wave propulsion, like a U-shaped Pac-Man hungry for plastic. It orients itself in the wind and it catches and concentrates plastic, sort of.

But as Slat, now 24, recently discovered with the beta tester for his design, plastic occasionally drifts out of its U-shaped funnel. The other issue with the beta tester, called System 001, is that last week, a 60-feet-long end section broke off.

The first issue, Slat said, was likely due to the device’s speed. In a September interview with NPR, he said the device averages about four inches per second, which his team has now concluded is too slow. The break in the barrier was due to an issue with the material used to build it.

Humanity Has Managed to Change Places We’ve Barely Even Visited

From the Mariana Trench to the Moon, we don’t have to be in a place very much to muck it up.

Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott sampled the lunar surface in 1971.

THIS PLANET EXISTED FOR BILLIONS of years before we showed up. Earth froze and thawed; it was gashed by glaciers; it was trod by some giant, pretty ridiculous-looking creatures. Since we got here and began tilling the soil and razing forests, building cities and homes and highways, and pushing ourselves out into the vast ocean and up into the endless sky, it’s never been the same. Our fingerprints are just about everywhere on Earth—and even places beyond.

These traces aren’t just the deep, lasting scars or massive, nature-defying infrastructure projects, but also subtle impacts in places we almost never actually visit—ocean crevices, less-trammeled terrain, or even other worlds. Here are three recently uncovered examples of the human knack for disrupting the status quo with even the slightest contact.

Visitors introduced tiny interlopers to Antarctica

Antarctica is a hard place to be a plant. Only around 1 percent of the land is hospitable to plant life, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Mosses and lichens cluster near the shores like emerald blankets, but few flowering plants can make a go of it. Those that can—namely, hair grass and pearlwort—are found far from the frozen interior, in places such as Signy Island, one of the South Orkney group at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Little midges could be bad for the mosses that blanket parts of Signy Island.

Those few flowering plants now have new, more mobile neighbors: Eretmoptera murphyi, a flightless midge. The insect isn’t native to the peninsula, but it’s suddenly flourishing there, significantly outweighing the biomass of the other arthropods there combined (there are a few tiny examples who are native to the continent). Researchers suspect that E. murphyi arrived from South Georgia island by hitching a ride with unwitting humans. “Midge larvae … are tiny and cannot be seen easily with the naked eye,” said Peter Convey of the BAS, in a statement. “Tourists and researchers may be bringing them in from their stopovers in the sub-Antarctic and moving them around the continent in the mud on their boots.” Thousands of scientists and tourists visit Antarctica each year—a drop in the bucket of global travel, but enough to offer plenty of opportunities for tiny insects to thumb a ride. Elsewhere on the continent, scientists and tourists also appear to be tracking in pathogens that are sickening local seabirds.

5 Crimes That Got Hilariously Foiled By Instant Karma

5. A Herd Of Cows Chase And Corner A Car Thief

Drug-sniffing dogs, mounted police horses, and elite attack geese are but a few of the animal species that assist mankind in the pursuit of justice. Sadly, out of all the creatures that have officially assisted mankind’s various police forces, cows have not historically made the cut. Which is fine by the cows. They prefer the vigilante route.

“We are vengeance. We are the night. Moooooo.”

After crashing near a pasture, a Florida car thief tried to hoof it to safety. Figuring it was a safe way to stay out of sight, Jennifer Anne Kaufman darted into a grassy field. She didn’t know that when the mean streets spill over into a peaceful pasture, cattle will chase down a fugitive like a bunch of slightly less leathery Tommy Lee Joneses.

“Would you like your steak medium, rare, or on that black eye we’re going to give you?”

Captured in its entirety on a police helicopter camera, these mad cows pursued our wily perpetrator across hill and dale, flipping the script by herding the human to a fence and right into the tacklin’ arms of the deputies of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

In recognition of performing above and beyond their bovine civic duties, the Sheriff’s Office gave credit to their hoofy deputies: “A group of cows provided law enforcement a big assist, repeatedly following and helping corral one who strayed on to their turf!” That’s a big deal for the bovine rights community — a thank you without a single cow pun? We really have come a long way.

The history of science shows how to change the minds of science deniers


Protests are good. Stories are better.

Most of us don’t think of science as a story. If we think of it at all, it’s as a series of discoveries made by a few geniuses whose insights somehow changed our lives.

A new book aims to transform that perception, turning it into a tale the whole world is writing together—a fable involving heroes and villains, triumphs and tragedies, and very high stakes for humanity and the planet.

Robert Crease, a science historian and chairman of the philosophy department at Stony Brook University in New York, is the author of this upcoming book, The Workshop and the World. Crease is concerned about science deniers, especially people in positions of authority, who discount evidence that human activity is changing life on Earth for the worse, driving climate change and disrupting the delicate balance that all living things rely upon on our interconnected planet. He believes that by understanding the history of science, we can “keep the world from falling apart,” in his words.

This might sound like a very tall order. But in Crease’s view, each of us has a stake in making the world better. We may not be great thinkers ourselves, but our participation in telling the tale of science is crucial, he argues.

Beginning with Francis Bacon in the 17th century and ending with Hannah Arendt in the 20th century, the philosopher lays out the story of the scientific workshop—which is his shorthand for the process of scientific thinking and the actual experiments scientists conduct. In his book, Crease provides examples of 10 great thinkers in history who saw possibilities, confronted authority, and took action, advancing unconventional ideas for their time that directly or indirectly improved our lives today. Their efforts provide examples of how to respond to people and institutions who ignore scientific evidence when it’s convenient for them, despite relying on science in other areas.

The Milky Way Could Crash Into Another Galaxy Billions of Years Earlier Than Predicted

Mark your calendars for a rendezvous with the Large Magellanic Cloud.

The Milky Way above a space observatory in Chile.

Ah, the Milky Way, our glittering home in the cosmos. Seen in an unencumbered night sky, far from the glare of city lights, it seems magnificent and eternal in its enormity. Nothing could shift this ancient web of stars, nothing could disturb its transcendent stoicism.

Except, that is, another galaxy. Galaxies orbit millions of light-years apart, but gravity, the immutable magnet of the cosmos, can pull them together, producing spectacular collisions that reshuffle stars millions of years. According to the leading theory, the Milky Way will collide with one of its closest neighbors, Andromeda, sometime between 6 billion and 8 billion years from now.

But the Milky Way may face another galactic threat before that, from a different neighbor. A new study predicts our galaxy will collide with a galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud between 1 billion and 4 billion years from now.

This is a rather surprising change in schedule, considering that the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is close enough to be seen with the naked eye, is currently moving away from the Milky Way. What gives?


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

This week’s Op-Doc is “The Diver,” by Esteban Arrangoiz. Part four in “A Moment in Mexico,” our special six-part series of Op-Docs by Mexican directors, “The Diver” profiles a man who has found long lasting contentment in a dirty job: diving into the sewers and water treatment plants of Mexico City to clear blockages and reduce the risk of floods.

As Arrangoiz writes, “Mexico is undergoing multiple crises: humanitarian, corruption, garbage. This film shows us how through his work, a human being is capable of finding beauty, pleasure and the essence of his humanity inside the detritus. This moves me, gives me hope and compels me to make movies. I think Mexico needs stories like these.”

Hasan Minhaj tackles the reality of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s autocratic rule and, as a Muslim and an American, breaks down why the world should reassess its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

THANKS to Netflix and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj for making this program available on YouTube.

You Fools! You forgot about planes! We always forget about planes!

THANKS to truTV and Adam Ruins Everything for making this program available on YouTube.

Spam is everywhere. But how much do you really know about the world’s most ubiquitous mystery meat? From turning the tide in World War Two to saving the population of Hawaii, here’s a look at what you should really know about Spam…

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s me commentary on the modern orchestral scene.

鏡もち箱に入るまる。Maru gets into the round rice cake box.

お正月にちゅーるをもらったまるとはな。まるの勢いがすご過ぎる。 Maru got Churu for New Year holidays.It seemed to be very delicious.


Is This Duck Kosher? It’s Complicated

The case of the Muscovy duck cannot be settled because the rules themselves are not really known.

A close-up on a Muscovy duck.

THE BASICS OF JEWISH DIETARY law—the laws of kashrut—are fairly well-known: no pork, no shellfish, no milk and meat together. But there are many, many more laws than that, some of which are unclear, some of which are localized and don’t necessarily apply to all countries, and many of which have never really been settled. The case of the Muscovy duck is one of the most fun.

The rules of kashrut have a couple of issues that destabilize the entire process of figuring out what Jews can and cannot eat. One of these fundamental issues is that the laws don’t necessarily follow any larger philosophy. Jewish scholars have long divided the laws of Judaism into a couple of different categories. Mishpatim—the -im and -ot endings of words signify plurals in Hebrew—are laws that are self-evident to the survival of a society, like “don’t murder” or “don’t steal.” The edot are laws usually surrounding holidays, symbolic rules designed to memorialize events or bring a community together, like wearing a yarmulke or not eating bread on Passover. And then there are the chukim.

The chukim are laws that make no sense. They are sometimes phrased in ways to make following them more palatable; for example, that these are laws passed down directly from God, and it is not necessary that we understand them. The rules of kashrut are sometimes, but not always, placed in this category.

Another fundamental issue with the laws of kashrut is the lack of a Jewish governing body. Judaism has no centralized force, as Catholicism does with the Vatican. Instead, there are simply a bunch of extremely learned dudes, throughout thousands of years of history, who are considered very smart and knowledgeable and whose arguments about the various laws are widely read and sometimes adopted. But these dudes—usually but not always given the title of Rabbi—have disagreements, and their own followings.

Carl Schleicher’s Eine Streitfrage aus dem Talmud.

Because Jews are scattered all over the globe, there is a great diversity in thinking. Different environments call for different rules. And the rules in the Torah are not always clear-cut, so different communities will follow the suggestions of different learned dudes.

Ed. “Suggestions of different learned dudes.” I like it.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?